Can Chewing Gum Improve Your Oral Health?

Woman in sunglasses blowing bubblegum bubble

From ancient birch resin clumps found during an archaeological dig in Swedish isles to Greek mastiche made from Mastic tree bark to Native American spruce paste, humans have been chewing gum for millennia. People across the world chew over 100,000 tons of gum every year, which gum manufacturers profit from to the tune of $19 billion. You most likely chew gum on a regular basis, perhaps to freshen your breath before an important date or to cleanse your palate after a meal. Gum can be a tasty and textural treat, but is it good or bad for your mouth? As part of our dedication to helping patients understand and improve their oral health, we explain how this common habit can help and hurt your oral health below.

Capturing Bacteria

The sticky material of gum can adhere to bacteria, capturing them from your teeth and gums so they can be spit out when you’re finished chewing. A recent study conducted at the Netherlands’ University of Groningen and published in PLOS ONE discovered “a single piece of gum can trap up to 100 million bacteria,” roughly ten percent of the microorganisms in your mouth. Since these bacteria can cause decay and periodontal disease, this study indicates that a little chewing could go a long way in improving your dental health. However, there’s a catch—the “optimal chewing time for trapping bacteria was less than a minute,” they found. If you like to absentmindedly chomp on chiclets as you go about your day, you could be freeing the once-captive bacteria back into your mouth.

Exceptional Xylitol

Xylitol isn’t just a tasty artificial sweetener, it can help ward off cavities. Manufacturers have used this substance to make lozenges, candies, and—you guessed it—chewing gum. Xylitol is anticariogenic, meaning that it can fight decay. This substance prevents bacteria from reproducing and forming plaque, reducing your risk for caries and oral infection. Gum sweetened with xylitol offers all of the bacteria-capturing benefits of conventional gum plus more.

Saliva Flow

Your spit is your body’s intrinsic protection against caries. It helps wash away food debris and includes natural decay-fighting compounds and enzymes. Chewing gum helps stimulate the flow of saliva to enhance these benefits. The American Dental Association reports: “Clinical studies have shown that chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes following meals can help prevent tooth decay” because “the increased salivary flow can help neutralize and wash away the acids that are produced when food is broken down by the bacteria in plaque on your teeth.”

Spreading Sugar

All of the above benefits of gum depend on it being sugar-free. Sweet, acidic flavored and bubble gums can feed the bacteria in your mouth, allowing them to form plaque, which could lead to cavities or gum disease. In fact, sticky gum could be one of the worst foods for your oral health, since it can attach more easily to your teeth and coat the entirety of your mouth.

Putting Your Jaw in Jeopardy

TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder occurs when the facial muscles connecting your temple to your lower jaw become damaged, stretched, or misaligned. Chewing gum on a frequent basis can overwork your joints, injuring them. Prevention magazine notes: “chewing gum can lead to symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)” including “headaches, earaches, or toothaches over time.” If you suffer from TMJ, Dr. Flanagan can help you treat it with dental appliances, physical therapy, and medications. She may also recommend making lifestyle changes like avoiding chewing gum and taking smaller bites.

Chew Consciously

Gum can be both beneficial and detrimental to your oral health. The most important thing is that you consider the potential effects of chewing gum for your mouth so you can make an informed decision. To learn more about your oral health or schedule an appointment, contact Cindy Flanagan, D.D.S.

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